Shadowed by his former glory, track star fights mental illness
By Daniel Dasey
May 14, 2006
FORMER sprint star Darren Clark has been been crippled by mental illness and is undergoing therapy and drug treatment in an attempt to lead a normal life.
Diagnosed with bipolar disorder, the Commonwealth Games gold medallist has not worked since 2001, is facing a possible jail term after a string of driving offences and is struggling to cope with life away from the spotlight.
"I'm crying out for help, I really am," said Clark, who lives with partner Lydia McGill and their three young children near Bathurst.
"I know being successful again isn't that hard. The simple things need to be done - getting some therapy, continuing with the right treatment and getting back into the workforce. Then I'll be as happy as Larry."
Now 40, Clark burst onto the athletics scene as a teenager in the early 1980s. With his good looks and natural ability he became the pin-up boy of Australian sport.
He finished fourth in the 400 metres at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, took silver at the 1986 Commonwealth Games, came fourth at the 1988 Seoul Olympics , won gold at the 1990 Auckland Commonwealth Games, then retired. After a brief stint in rugby league in 1991, he took up athletics coaching. He was on the verge of a comeback as a sprinter in 2000 when he was injured in a car accident.
Unable to compete or find a direction in life, he left his wife of 13 years, Sue, with whom he had three children.
His last full-time job, coaching at the Australian Institute of Sport, ended in 2001 and he has spent the past five years helping to raise the three children he has with Lydia - Zen, 5, Eloise, 4 and Joseph, five months.
The father-of-six said bipolar disorder and the loss of a public profile had left him too depressed to work.
"Once the circus is over the caravan moves on and there's no more slaps on the back," he said.
"I miss it. It's just so different now."
In 2004 Clark was given a six-month suspended jail sentence and banned from driving until 2007 after being caught driving without a licence twice in five months.
He was still serving under that suspension when, in February and March this year, he was again caught driving - on one occasion at 20kmh over the speed limit.
Clark said he was embarrassed by his crimes.
He faces court over the charges on June 26, and could face a maximum 12-month jail term.
Professor Ian Hickie, from the Brain and Mind Research Institute at Sydney University, said bipolar disorder was a debilitating illness. Sufferers could be "unwell in two ways", he said yesterday.
"They can be severely depressed and that affects concentration and attention. And they can be hypermanic or manic, then attention is impaired," he said.
"Certainly there are issues related to things like driving skills and other complex attentional tasks. Medication can also have adverse affects."
Clark plans to continue his regime of medication and therapy, and hopes to return to work, perhaps in the security industry.
He believes the self esteem which comes with having a job will be an important step on the road to recovery. His long-term dream is to run running fishing tours, in and around Sydney.
"There's no-one to blame but myself," he said. "It's all part of life. I had to learn certain lessons to better understand myself."
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